The roots of the American Civil War had begun to take hold while Horatio Collins King was still a child, and shaped both his childhood and college years. Sectional friction over slavery issues and the differing economies of the North and South had been brewing for decades before war finally broke out in 1861. The agriculturally based economy of the Southern states depended on slave labor, and had since the beginning of colonization in the area, while the manufacturing hub of the North had little use for slaves. As a result, citizens in the North began to speak out against the evils of the institution of slavery. Throughout the 1850s, tensions between the Northern and Southern states increased, and the South repeatedly threatened secession from the Union as the North began to call for the total abolition of slavery.11
As a student at Dickinson College from 1854-1858, King was only slightly sheltered from the brewing conflict between the two sections of the United States. He wrote that many of the students at the time, including himself, were Democrats and anti-abolitionists, but this changed for King when he attended a lecture at the First Presbytarian Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania given by Henry Ward Beecher, with whom King would eventually become close friends. Beecher's abolitionist lecture moved King and, along with the onset of the Civil War, helped to change his outlook on the politics of the time.12 King would eventually turn to support Republican Abraham Lincoln, and later wrote that "the three years which I devoted to the great war reversed my attitude towards the slavery question, and no one was happier than myself when the escutcheon of slavery was wiped off our national emblem."13 In the meantime, while King studied behind the limestone walls of the Dickinson campus, the nation raged around him, growing closer and closer to war.
Two years after King's graduation, in November, 1860, Abraham Lincoln, a candidate of the antislavery Republican party, was elected to the presidency. It was with his election to office that the citizens in the Southern states truly began to feel as though they would lose their rights, and secession from the North was the only way that they saw to protect their rights and Southern equality and liberty. Lincoln had been elected with only forty percent of the popular vote, and virtually no support in the South, and although the Republicans did not win control of the Congress, this was of little consolation to the South. Although the Republican party claimed that Lincoln was a moderate on slavery issues, he in fact opposed the expansion of slavery on the grounds that it was detrimental to the Republic. Feeling threatened by the new presidency and Northern views on slavery, eleven of the southern states seceeded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America on February 7, 1861, electing Jefferson Davis as their president. Tensions were running high and it was only a matter of months before the first shots of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter, a federal garrison in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. When Lincoln dispatched troops to the area to aid the federal troops fighting the Confederates there, four more states in the Upper South seceeded from the Union and the lines for the fighting over the next four years were drawn.14
The war affected everyone in the States in some way or another, and fighting was fierce as the Confederates fought for a way of life that they had known since the establishment of the colonies in the seventeenth century. The South had a traditional economy dependent on the production of rice, sugar, and cotton which was supported by slave labor. For these citizens, it was hard to seperate slavery from a part of their way of life and livelihood.15 Back in New York, where he was practicing law, King was drawn to the conflict and wanted to aid the cause of the Union. His father was working closely with Lincoln in Washington D.C., and King felt strongly that he too should do something to support the Lincoln adminstration in the war. However, although his family, and especially his father, understood his inclination to join the Union Army, they convinced their son to stay out of the fighting for as long as possible, which King did until 1862. It was in the fall of that year that he wrote to the Secretary of War to ask for a commission in the Union Army, which he received that summer.16 Meanwhile, the fighting continued, with the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee holding its own throughout the first years of the war and into 1863. On January 1 of that year, Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation, further angering the Confederate states. In July, 1863, the Confederate army got tangled up in the Battle of Gettysburg, which resulted in a Union victory and the loss of one third of Lee's troops - a blow that his army never recovered from. Throughout the rest of the war, Lee was never able to regain the offensive that he had lost to the Union Army.17
In the election of 1864, Lincoln was again the choice of the Republican party for the presidency, and he ran for re-election on a platform that called for a constitutional amendment that would abolish slavery. Winning with fifty-five percent of the popular vote, he immediately passed the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865, which freed all slaves without compensation to their owners. Two months later, in March 1865, Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress signed a bill giving freedom to slaves and their families who would volunteer to fight for the South as they were quickly losing their battle against the North. They were badly in need of soldiers, and could no longer afford to be concerned with race or color. The Confederate soldiers fought valiantly throughout the last months of the war, but with little success. In the spring of 1865, Lee's army surrendered at the Appomattox Court House on April 9 following a week long battle in which King took part. The remaining resistance within the Confederate states was crushed within a few weeks, effectively ending the Civil War.18
The impact of the war on America was unquestionably devastating. On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was asassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, thereby giving his life to the Republic. Approximately 620,000 men on both sides lost their lives - which is nearly as many as in all the other wars the nation has fought from the Revolution through Vietnam combined. The South, which had previously been the richest section of the nation, became the poorest after the war, with its wealth declining forty-three percent. Disillusionment ran rampant throughout the broken nation, and the surviving soldiers of the conflict had much to deal with both externally and internally upon their return home.19 While Horatio Collins King only took part in approximately five battles, one can see through the reading of his diary from 1864-65 and his actions following his service in the conflict that the war affected him for the remainder of his life.
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